Michael Volpicelli is a veteran with a passion for art and peace. His unique portraits uses the words of notable peacemakers to create their likenesses.

He created these five portraits people to represent people who are doing things to help spread identity and compassion.

All five of these figures suffered horrible hardships within their life yet found a way to remain positive and promote growth with nonviolent means. – Michael Volpicelli

The following are Michel’s personal descriptions of his portraits.

Marianne Pearl


Marianne Pearl is a journalist whose husband was killed at the start of the Iraq war.  In her grief she did not seek revenge on the people that killed her husband, but instead she sought out places where the Taliban would recruit poor poverty-stricken people and tried to raise awareness of the pain and suffering they were suffering.

I used different parts of her book, movie, and journalistic endeavors to create her portrait.She did this to give the poor a voice and to help raise understanding of what might make somebody do such horrible things such as kidnapping or beheading somebody. She thought by showing compassion to them, it might help bring them a voice that may lead to government and private aid, and thereby remove the hardships a person might face that would lead them to terrorism.

Israel Kamakawiwo

Israel Kamakawiwo

I chose to use his song lyrics to create his identity. I feel that his identity is also a direct reflection of the identity of his people.Israel Kamakawiwo is a native Hawaiian who has a lot of pride for his people. In his song “Hawaii ’78” he talks about the loss of his father to depression and to obesity.

He felt that his father was depressed because their culture was dying due to an increase of Western economic interest in the Hawaiian Islands. He felt that he was losing his identity as a native Hawaiian. He wanted to do something about it and instead of acting out violently he made some of the most beautiful music a person could ever hear.

Maxi Jazz


Nearly all of his songs express a message of love, mutual respect, and spread compassion through positive messages and meanings to the youth members of his community. I used the songs about compassion to create his portrait.Maxi Jazz sings about when he used to be a criminal, a gang member, and a substance abuser. He was married and had a child when he was young, and due to the life he led, both his wife and his child left to live a safer life. This caused him to spiral downward until he hit rock bottom.  At the bottom, instead of letting his own personal darkness consume him, he wrote music about compassion and about the struggles of homeless and poverty-stricken people within London.

He wanted to give a voice to their suffering.  He was able to do this through his songs. He began to make a lot of money with his music, which he was then able to use to help spread compassion through financial contributions to charities. He helped build up the community from which he came so others might have a fighting chance.


Malala Yousafzai

Malala final

This portrait is of Malala Yousafzai (my personal favorite). She is a 16-year-old girl that grew up in Pakistan, and her father was a teacher at a local school. Because her father promoted education for women he was put on a Taliban kill list.

She would grow up in fear for many years that one night the Taliban would break into her home and kill her and her family. Instead of this fear controlling her she fought back by giving speeches on pro-education for female children at her school. That then put her on a Taliban kill list.

I used the speech that she gave to the United Nations to create her portrait. I feel that her passion really speaks to all of us about who she is, and creates a better likeness than any painting of her face alone could provide.One day the Taliban showed up at her school and shot her in the head. They had hoped to kill her, but instead they made her an international icon for education.  After she was shot she was invited by the United Nations to give a speech to spread awareness of the endeavors women face in many countries. In her speech she doesn’t condemn anybody or vow for revenge; instead, she tries to promote a message of love and mutual respect for all people regardless of color, race, religion, gender, or whatever else.

Thich Nhat Han

thich nhat han2

Thich Nhat Han is a Vietnamese Zen Master. He joined the monkshood at a young age and lived through the Vietnam war as a monk. During this time he made it his mission to try and help those suffering through times of war by founding the school of youth Social Service, that helped rebuild bombed homes, set up schools, and medical centers.

I made this portrait using his poetry and teachings because I thought that doing so would create more understanding of who this man is.In 1966, Thich Nhat Han was banned from returning to vietnam but he never stopped trying to find ways of spreading movements for peace. Thich Nhat Han, later on, after seeking refuge in France. His work included making a case for peace to federal and pentagon officials, and even talked with Martin Luther King Jr. to oppose the Vietnam war publicly and help to create the peace movement as a whole.

In 1982, he founded the Plum Village in France, which is a buddhist community where he continues to try and ease suffering for families in vietnams and throughout the third world where he still resides today.

Thich Nhat Hanh was a Vietnamese refugee who, instead of becoming bitter after being sent into exile, set up foundations to help other refugees that were too poor to buy food and clothes. He tried to teach people to be mindful of the natural world through poetry and lectures. Even though things were bad, he did his best to remain positive.

These five people created a ripple

These five people created a ripple that will change the world for the better. Sitting at home one night I thought, how could I help them spread their message? After all, they are all personal heroes of mine.  As a portrait artist I thought that this modality might pay them tribute and give people an opportunity to learn about the person as well as see an accurate likeness. I wanted to create a picture that would hold a person’s attention for longer than seven seconds, and to personally educate and tell a story for who that person is. Isn’t that the point of portraiture anyway? To show that a person is more than just the photograph?

Want to see more of Michael’s work? Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Featured in Ripley’s & the Steve Harvey Show

Michael was recently featured in our latest book, Reality Shock! for his incredible portraits. You can also see him on The Steve Harvey Show THIS FRIDAY, January 23, 2015.

Check your local listings to see when it airs near you.


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